The Winter X Games is the pinnacle for winter extreme sports. For NAU Associate Athletic Trainer Brent Appel, an avid winter sports enthusiast himself, he lived out an experience for the ages recently with the opportunity to work the 2016 Winter X Games in Aspen from Jan. 28-31.
“I’ve never worked an event on that scale, so I went in with an open mind,” Appel said. “It was also my first experience working with winter sports. One of the coolest things was the opportunity to work along side a group of excellent athletic trainers and physicians who were part of our medical staff. To see how they operated in a big event like that with athletes of that caliber, that was the most exciting part for me.”
Appel, in his third year with the Northern Arizona University Sports Medicine staff, is the Lumberjack women’s basketball team’s primary athletic trainer. Originally from Iowa, Appel is a member of the National Athletic Trainers Association, Rocky Mountain Athletic Training Association and the Arizona Athletic Training Association who arrived at NAU following a year at Fort Lewis College.
Although from the Midwest, Appel frequently enjoys the outdoors including snowboarding, which made his recent opportunity one that he was eagerly anticipating.
“As a guy who grew up in Iowa who loved winter sports but didn’t have the opportunities as someone who might live in the West, (the X Games) was awesome,” Appel said. “Ever since I’ve moved out West, I’ve fallen in love with these sports more and more. To see it at that level, it gave me a higher appreciation for what these athletes can really do on skis or snowboards. It put into perspective how difficult these sports are.”
The prestigious opportunity came about by chance really. With the Arizona High School Cycling League – a club who provides kids interested in mountain biking with organized races – heading up to Flagstaff last summer, Appel – a passionate mountain biker himself – seeked out an opportunity to volunteer with the club. Through a connection made with the owner of Medicine in Motion LLC, he was then invited to work at the Winter X Games.
While at the X Games, Appel was paired up with four other athletic trainers who were assigned to the X Course. With skiers added back to the X Course this year, that created more demand for athletic trainers. Appel and his team worked the practice sessions, the qualifying rounds and the actual competition. The list of athletes included men’s and women’s skiers, men’s and women’s snowboarders, adaptive snowboarders (those with prosthetic legs or missing upper extremities) and mono skiers (paraplegics on a single ski). They were also tasked with working the Big Air Snowboard event.
“My main focus was to do a good job medically, so I didn’t want to put too much focus into who I might run into,” Appel said. “But at the same time, I definitely saw athletes that I recognized from all over the world.”
The experience of working the invite-only X Games featuring the best winter sport athletes not only from the United States, but also internationally, is one that Appel will always treasure from a personal standpoint and hopes to continue. Furthermore though, from a professional development standpoint, Appel is a better athletic trainer because of it.
“My long term goals are to continue to work with athletes in these non-traditional sports,” Appel said. “I think it’s an under-represented area in terms of health care is concerned. But that’s where we come in as athletic trainers, where we can help them excel. There’s going to be traumatic injuries, and there were some this past week, but to be immersed in these emergent situations is always good experience.”
With Appel as just one example, it is clear that Lumberjack student-athletes are in outstanding hands with our NAU Sports Medicine staff on a daily basis.